The hormonal changes that occur during menopause can cause many uncomfortable, well-known physical symptoms such as hot flashes, mood swings, vaginal dryness, and night sweats.
Some women may also experience changes to their skin, such as itchy skin. This condition is known medically as “pruritus.” Pruritus may occur during perimenopause and continue shortly after menopause. Perimenopause is the 8- to 10-year period before menopause. Menopause is over when you’ve stopped menstruating for a year, at which time you enter into postmenopause.
Menopause and itching
During menopause, hormonal changes include a loss of estrogen. Estrogen is related to the production of collagen, an essential building block of skin. Estrogen is also related to the production of natural oils that keep your skin moisturized. The lack of collagen and natural oils can cause your skin to become thin and itchy.
Itchy skin can occur on any part of your body, but is more likely to occur on your:
You may also experience itchy skin on your elbows and the T-zone of your face.
During menopause, you may also experience additional changes to your skin, such as:
There are other rarer skin conditions you may also experience during menopause, such as paresthesia. Paresthesia is the sensation of tingling, numbness, or “pins and needles” on the skin. A few women may also experience formication. Formication is a type of paresthesia described as the sensation of insects crawling on the skin.
You may wish to visit your doctor if your itchy skin symptoms persist for three or more days. Your doctor may ask you how long your itchy skin has persisted, and which parts of your body are affected.
Your doctor may run tests to rule out any other serious medical conditions that can cause itching. These tests may include:
- blood tests
- thyroid, liver, and kidney function tests
- chest X-rays
There are many home remedies you can try to alleviate your itchy skin.
Colloidal oatmeal is an oatmeal that is made from finely ground oats. It can be found in many natural beauty and bath products.
Add colloidal oatmeal to a warm bath. Avoid using water that’s too hot, as that can further dry out and irritate your skin. Soak for at least 10 minutes, and pat your skin dry after your bath. The oatmeal may help alleviate and soothe itchy skin.
Keep your skin well moisturized with a high-quality moisturizer. This helps hold water in your skin’s outermost layer, which can help alleviate drying and itching.
Aloe vera gel or calamine lotion may also be used to treat skin discomfort.
Vitamin C plays an important role in the creation of collagen in the skin. Vitamin C can aid in repairing damage to the skin, and may help to prevent dry, thin, itchy skin. Vitamin C can be taken:
- as an oral supplement
- eaten in foods such as citrus fruits
- applied topically with over-the-counter beauty treatments
Herbal supplements may provide some relief from menopausal symptoms.
Some herbal supplements, like dong quai, act as phytoestrogens in the body, which may help in replenishing estrogen in the short term. Other herbal supplements, like maca root, may encourage the body’s natural production of hormones.
Discuss any herbal supplements you’re interested in taking with your doctor before you begin. Some herbal supplements may interfere with prescription medications.
In some cases, home remedies may not be enough to manage your itchy skin. Over-the-counter or prescription medications, or medical procedures may be needed.
Over the counter (OTC) anti-itch creams
An OTC hydrocortisone cream with at least 1 percent hydrocortisone can be found at the drugstore, and may work well for soothing inflamed, itchy skin.
Your doctor may prescribe you a topical corticosteroid to treat inflamed, itchy skin. Prescription corticosteroids may include hydrocortisone, or a variety of other corticosteroids in varying strengths. They may be applied as an aerosol, gel, cream, or lotion.
Hormone replacement therapy (HRT)
HRT is a popular course of treatment for treating many of the symptoms of menopause, including itchy skin. HRT does carry with it some health risks and side effects. Risks and side effects may include:
- breast swelling
- skin discoloration
- increased risk of gallstones
- urinary incontinence
- vaginal spotting or bleeding
- increased risk of breast and uterine cancer
HRT may also carry a small increased risk for heart disease, although studies are conflicting. Talk with your doctor. They can help you decide if HRT is a good choice for you based on your heart health and medical history.
There may be some steps you can take to help prevent or reduce your risk for itchy skin.
A balanced diet rich in natural foods is essential to healthy skin. Staying hydrated by drinking plenty of water is also important for keeping skin supple and moisturized.
Some supplements have also been shown to have beneficial effects on the skin, including:
- vitamin C, both oral and topical
- gamma-linolenic acid (GLA), like evening primrose oil
- collagen peptides
- omega-3 fatty acids
Avoid hot showers
Showering or bathing in hot water robs your skin of precious oils that are needed for supple, moisturized skin. Shower in cool to lukewarm water. Use gentle soap, and moisturize after showering to lock in your skin’s moisture.
Though it may be tempting to scratch your itchy areas, try to avoid scratching as much as possible. Consider keeping the area covered with a cool compress, which can also provide additional relief. Keep your fingernails well-trimmed, and wear gloves at night to prevent harsh scratching in your sleep.
Practice healthy behaviors
Here are some additional tips to improve the look and feel of your skin:
- get plenty of sleep and rest
- reduce stress
- wear sunscreen daily
- avoid tanning beds
- avoid smoking and alcohol use, which can both be drying to the skin
- get regular exercise to help regulate hormones
Other causes for itchy skin
Itchy skin can be caused by factors other than menopause.
Some common causes of itchy skin include:
- cold weather
- insect bites
- hot showers
- harsh soaps
- alcohol or drug use
Other conditions that may lead to itchy skin include:
Skin cancers often appear as an unusual freckle, mole, rash, or growth. These changes to the skin are typically seen in areas of the body that receive the greatest sun exposure, but can also grow in other places.
Candida fungal skin infections
Candida skin infections are most often found on parts of the body that rub together, like the groin or armpits. Poor hygiene, tight clothing, or sweating can cause the fungus to multiply.
Herpes can appear on various parts of the body, and most often appears on the mouth or genitals. Herpes is associated with blistering and itching of the affected region, but can also produce flu-like symptoms, such as fever and fatigue.
Eczema is a skin condition that can cause extremely itchy, inflamed, scaly skin. It can appear on any part of the body. Eczema sometimes forms reddish-gray patches, or bumps that ooze fluid when scratched.
Psoriasis is a chronic autoimmune condition that can cause skin symptoms that appear anywhere on the body. Symptoms may include:
- patches of scaly skin
- small pink spots
- pus-filled blisters
- inflamed skin
Itchy skin may be a symptom of menopause. There are many home and medical treatments available to help with the discomfort it causes. Lifestyle changes can also help reduce your risk or the severity of your itchiness.
If you’re experiencing itchy skin during menopause, your symptoms should subside shortly after menopause has ended.